Art Imitates & Influences Life

By | Tuesday, January 22, 2013 2 comments
I try to be as open-minded as possible when it comes to comics. I certainly have my preferences when it comes to style and message and everything, but I try not to let them get in the way of appreciating comics that don't match those preferences. Whether its in an illustration style that I don't like or it conveys a message I don't agree with, I try to step back and look at the piece as objectively as I can. I'm not always successful, of course, but that's the intent.

I was probably most open-minded about taking in new experiences in college. There were a few reasons for that. First, I had moved away from the homogeneity of my hometown; I was forced into regularly meeting and interacting with people notably different than myself. Second, I was receiving a broader formal education -- my high school was small enough to not have much more than a general education, so moving to college meant I could take a history class focused exclusively on ancient Aztecs or a literature class focused on late 19th century female novelists. Third, living out away from parents meant that I had to start looking at the world in larger terms than my immediate home. I was being bombarded with new ideas and experiences at a rate I probably hadn't seen since I was a baby.

Of course, by the time I got to college, a lot of my personal identity had already been formed. Identity isn't a completely static notion, obviously, but the fundamentals are well set by then. But all the new (to me) and different media I was taking in -- whether through formal classes or informal relationships -- was helping to mold who I was to become. Seeing Atomic Cafe for example did a lot to reinforce my then-vague notions of government's corruption, and I gained a greater appreciation for classical music from Animaniacs.

Of course, beyond college I'm still influenced by art. After all, that's the whole point of marketing, right? To sway you to buy Pepsi instead of Coke because they've got a cooler logo or more fun music in their ads or whatever. And here's the interesting thing I've been running up against lately: they can have a cumulative impact on my overall mood.

I picked up a copy of Wilson not long ago because I found a cheap copy and it kind of seemed like one of those comics canon pieces that you're supposed to read. It was interesting and well-done, but kind of dreadful. I mean, here's the Wilson guy and he's miserable and has a crap life that he doesn't really do anything about, and he's kind of an asshole. I want nothing to do with this guy! I kind of felt the same way about Chris Ware's Building Stories.

I was recently doing some research on credits in comic book movies, and I watched Art School Confidential for the first time. Again, interesting and well-done, but kind of dreadful. The message is that talent has no business in capital-A Art, and it's all about who you blow. (Crudely put, but that's actual dialogue in the film.) It's a very cynical outlook, but not one I think I would've ever wholly disagreed with.

I'm also in the middle of Sean Howe's book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. My friend Joe recently posted his summary on Facebook that reads, in part, "I'm here to tell you truly, this book has been miscategorized. It's being sold as nonfiction and that is a mistake. This is a horror story... Just the section on the editorship of Jim Shooter in the 1980s read like the outline for the sequel to Cloverfield, and it doesn't get any better from there. I don't know when I've ever read anything so frightening. Anyone who wants to work in comics, and any creative person who even thinks of approaching this sinister, untrustworthy, lowbrow, anti-creative nest of ghouls, I would advise that person to read this book first, and "Be afraid. Be very afraid."" I can't say I fully agree with his assessment, but I haven't gotten to the Shooter section yet either.

All of which is to say that in the past month or two, I've somewhat inadvertently been imbibing some works which paint a very dark portrait of life. Logically, there's been no change in any circumstances around me, but my outlook has soured a tad recently. I blame Clowes. Yeah, perhaps a little seasonal affective disorder is to blame as well, but things haven't been looking as rosy lately. Certainly not in the depressed/pissed/hopeless sense that some of this media might imply, but a slight shift from my typical "full steam ahead" approach.

My "thing" lately has been making more deliberate choices about all aspects of my life. What I eat, what I wear, who I choose to associate with, etc. What media I consume certainly needs to be a part of that, and it largely has been. But I think I need to be more selective of TONE as well as craft and style. I don't want to read exclusively funny animal comics or anything, but I need to be careful to largely avoid extended, brooding, slice-of-life stories that leave me in a dark and hopeless place. There's nothing wrong with some measure of negativity, but the perpetual state of resigned misery and ennui these all head into is dreadful for anything more than a single, brief story.

At least for who I am, and where I am in my life. I don't have time to wallow in that crap; I've got a life I need to live. Like I said, I'm more careful now about who I choose to associate with, and that evidently has to include fictional characters.
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Ethan said...

That's interesting; I usually tend to feel better after indulging stories with drab, pessimistic protagonists. I see how good I've got it. But I understand where you're coming from as well.

Nate C. said...

I can understand what you're saying, and I agree to a point, but I think it'd be a shame to miss things like "Art School Confidential" (one of my fave films).

To me, the message was pretty bleak, though somewhat different (the only place the true artist can find to create freely is in a prison, locked away from the "real world"). I thought it was beautifully done, and it really resonated with my experiences. So I got a lot out of that.

That said, you better believe I'm enjoying reading "Essential Defenders Vol. 4" right now.